From an underdog to one of the richest men in the world, Ma’s story is one that resonates in Kenya. Ma applied for 30 jobs, including at KFC when it opened in his home city of Hangzhou. He was rejected from all of them. Unlike Zuckerberg who created Facebook from his Harvard dorm room, Ma struggled to go to college—he failed the entrance exam three times, and started Alibaba from his apartment.

“I think more people identify with him,” says Sam Gichuru of the Nailab, a Kenyan startup incubator, which Ma visited today.

Ma’s visit coincides with China’s growing influence in Africa, with foreign direct investment from China to Africa growing with a 106% rise in projects last year. Speaking at a panel with the head of the private sector alliance, Ma said that they were scouting for investment opportunities and was looking for partners interested in building logistics centers and those interested in supporting entrepreneurs. In Kenya, a Chinese firm recently completed a new railway connecting Nairobi to the country’s port city of Mombasa. Eventually it will reach Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“We want to make sure that everywhere we go we can build companies for the locals not for us,” Ma said.

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